Correcting Verticals — Redux

EDIT: This blog has MOVED. You’re on the old, dead blog. Everything (including this post) has been migrated onboard my website. Here’s the direct link:

Update your bookmarks! See you there!

We now continue with our original programming….

Back in ’09, I was doing a LOT of coaching, working with other photographers to improve their images. I had just wrapped up a string of workshops across the US, and I was about to begin recording seven Online Portfolio Review videos.

And the single most common issue with the beginning photographers I was talking with was verticals. So I recorded a quick tutorial explaining the issue, and showing the Photoshop techniques I was using to correct converging verticals in my photos. Back then I was using Photoshop CS3, and Lightroom 2.x. I was vastly unimpressed with the “Lens Correction Filter” in Photoshop, and Lightroom didn’t address lens corrections and transforms in a serious way at all.

That video went sort of viral, and remains one of the most viewed posts on this blog to this day.

BUT — things have changed. Lightroom 3.0 came out, and with it came much more robust lens corrections tools (a new version of Adobe Camera RAW contained the same tools). These days, many of my images never leave Lightroom, and I rarely resort to the Photoshop transform tools that I featured in the first “Correcting Verticals” video.

So, without further ado — here’s the 2011 version! This is what I’m doing on images that have converging verticals, rotation, and the inherent curvilinear and anamorphic distortion that’s inherent in even the best lenses. Hit the comments with feedback and your own methods!

27 responses to “Correcting Verticals — Redux

  1. Love it, thanks for sharing Scott. Lightroom 3 is awesome, as I used to mess with PTLens and other 3rd party apps, but LR3 has allowed me to adjust the verticals quickly and easily just as you described. Good video!

  2. Thanks for this… I’ve been using Lightroom 3 for only a couple months now, and I had not even explored the “manual” tab in the lens correction pane. It works very much like the 3rd party app I used in the past: LensFixCL, but with more control.

    I do run into situations at times where due to circumstances beyond my comprehension the left side of the image seems to need more tweaking than the right… we still have Transform in PS for those.

  3. Thank you for sharing this Scott. No excuse not to do it anymore πŸ™‚
    Cheers, Ed

  4. Thanks for the video Scott. I use LR3 too for quickie corrections.

    For more involved projects, DXO has a more thorough and even faster way to do it, that handles in one swoop rotation and verticals: Just trace 2 verticals, and it will correct the picture accordingly.

    You can even trace 4 lines that “should” be a square (but are not i the original photo) and it wll then take care of rotation and horizontal + vertical correction. I imagie the only reason it’s not in LR3 is some intellectual property issue, as it’s really a no brainer to use once you’re aware of it.

  5. Scott, I noticed you said that you might Photoshop out the signs. It’s my understanding that that is not OK to do, since they are permanent (and thus you would be misrepresenting the property).

    • Correct — but most of what I shoot is not for real estate. It’s also a good idea to remove that stuff before it goes into your portfolio (as I did for the twilight version of this shot).

  6. Hi Scott, thanks for the tut. Sorry I missed the NorCal meetup!

    Have to disagree with you on the usability Photoshop’s Lens Distortion correction filter – that is exactly where the LR3 Lens Correction pane *came from* – it is the same tool, fine-tunable and identical in every way as PS’ – and yes I’d rather use it in LR instead of using both programs. It’s important to note that LR is just catching up in 2011 to where PS and Bridge were several years ago. LR was released as a combination of Bridge and PS but without many of the obvious and essential features photographers require, like Lens Distortion Correction – so Adobe can squeeze as much money as possible out of us through upgrades. Yeah it’s like that.

    If you want a grid in PS simply type Command+’ or in mouse to Menu>View>Show>Grid

    • Charles, we missed you!

      Lens correction in LR/ACR is not identical to the Lens Correction Filter, they may possibly share some code, and I agree that the lens correct filter has improved with CS5…but still it has no lens profiles, and the rotate control is just ludicrous. Un-usable as far as I’m concerned. As it existed prior to the release of LR3.0, I found it clunky, difficult to control precisely, and (with the lack of generic lens profiles) very inferior to 3rd-party plugins like PTLens.

      You can’t really compare LR to Photoshop and Bridge — it does very different things. LR is a full-on cataloging system, with a robust RAW editor (and 3 other modules) — while Bridge is really just an enhanced browser. There are a couple of nice features in Bridge, which I use, but it was never designed to do things like Lightroom does. Bridge, and Photoshop actually, were not made for photographers — Photoshop contains TONS of features that are geared more towards graphic design, and Bridge was conceived as a central clearinghouse for folks who were moving documents through multiple applications within the Creative Suite — typically Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and GoLive. Bridge can seamlessly interact between any of those (and more, I assume).
      Lightroom, on the other hand, has little application outside photography. When it first came out, it was talked about as a replacement for Photoshop for photographers. That doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, since photography and computer graphics seem to merging rather than diverging.

  7. Scott… thanks for sharing your views, or correcting ours πŸ™‚ .

    I have been using lens correction in LR3 and like it. Maybe you can answer for me, why, at times does the image seems brighter with the lens correction?

    Also, do you know of a program for a Mac which takes all the images shot and assembles them correctly into a single view matching up?

  8. Hi Van,

    PS corrects the lens vignetting as part of the correction, so it will typically lighten the edges of the image. The level of the original vignette depends on the lens and how wide open it is, but can reach about 0.7 to 1 IL for some combinations (e.g. the Nikon 50mm 1.4D or the 70-300mm at 300mm on a full frame).


  9. Appreciate that Stephanie. I guess LR does the same lightening up.

    I am still not completely happy with my wide angle shots (14-24mm Nikkor) even with the referenced lens’ corrections and manually.

    I would like to find a stitching program that will automatically align a sequence or room full of photos using a 35 or 50mm lens. Do you know of one for a Mac user?

  10. Thanks, Stephane! You’ve got it exactly right. Van, Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw share the same “engine”, so whatever one does, the other does. The controls are just laid out differently.

    Your idea of stitching together several shots won’t work unless you use a shift lens. Otherwise you’ll have geometric distortion, and you’ll hate the results. For landscapes etc. it works fine, but for interiors, where any distortion is immediately obvious, you can’t do it.

    A shift lens, however, retains the same perspective in all the shots (normally you’d make 2 “tiles” and stitch them together, sometimes I do 3: left, middle, right) and so they go together seamlessly. Believe it or not, the “Photomerge” action in Photoshop does a great job of this.

  11. Hi Scott, Great video I’ve been using LR3 and ticking lens correction without playing in the manuala area so I’m excited now! I am just starting out on architecture and some display home photography and purchased the Canon 17mm TS lens but after just reading your fantastic ebook seems like I should have got the 24mm TS lens? Wish I knew you was here last Nov for the workshop – anymore planned in Melbourne Australia?

  12. Thanks for the update Scott, this method seems a lot less versatile than the Transform way to me, but I’m going to give it another try if you say so. If you have anything new to add regarding the Transform method, I’d love to hear that too.

    • @ Simon,

      Transform still works, but it’s lacking some key features, like Lens Profile corrections, that are built into the LR/ACR adjustment panels. And, it requires a trip into Photoshop, and unless you do it in a separate layer, it’s inherently destructive (i.e. if you screw it up and need to re-correct, you’re compounding the image quality issues).

      That said, there are times when the ability to Warp or Skew something is a good thing!

      • I didn’t think of the destructive aspect. My Nikon 18-35 isn’t available in the Adobe profiles, so I have to go out of LR anyway, luckily PTLens does a great job of removing it’s nasty distortion. I found it interesting that you recommend correcting the verticals then backing off a bit – will try that next time I shoot a building.

        (OT) I had some trouble with PTLens, so I posted a query on DPReview and got a solution from Thomas who wrote the software the same day! Now that’s some great customer service!

  13. Thanks for sharing Scott! Appreciated! Will you do tutorial or vids about how your process looks like in total? Like fi. what you do in PS with a random photo after you fixed the converting lines in LR?

    And do you also take the cropping into account at the moment that you are shooting; so, with more width in the composition? Guess so, cause it would make sense, right?

    Cheers, Kurt.

  14. I’m guess I’m a little late to the party, but I’m glad I found this. It’s always good to see how others approach these different aspects of post processing.

    Since I started using CS5 I found that I split my lens and perspective correction into two parts, I use the lens profiles in ACR but dont address the verticals and rotation until after I have finished with my exposure blending (you know how much I like my exposure blending!). Anyway, I guess there are always different means to the same end.

    Do you think the image would have been noticeably better had you been able to use the shift lens? I mean, is there a big difference in the final image from using a shift lens or angling up and correcting in post?

  15. Hi, Iran!
    Yeah, I would be able to tell the difference. With 21 megapixels, it’s not like we can’t spare a few, so I don’t mind doing some correction in post….but it does degrade the details, and the more correction you have to do, the more it’s noticeable. Really shows on stuff like brick, where you have lots of local contrast going on.

  16. Scott,
    Thanks for updating “Let’s Get This Straight” video, always enjoy and learn from your straight-forward style of teaching. I also use LR3 Lens Correction over CS5 Lens Correction Filter.

  17. Great vid Scott! I enjoyed your conversational style and thorough explanations.

  18. I never seem to have an image where, after rotating to correct the centre vertical, that left and right verticals are out by the SAME AMOUNT. And it seems they have to be equally tilted for the vertical correction slider (in both LR and PTLens) to work. With the vert slider I’ll get one side correct, but can only correct the other side by going out into PS and individually skewing that side. 8-{ Even when I ensure that the camera is mounted correctly on the tripod’s quick release plate (because that really WAS adding to the problem) I still can’t equalize L and R verts. It’s been like this with 3 cameras!
    BTW I only use my bubbles and not the viewfinder and if I’m fussy (and I am) I’d say I need minor correction to 90% of my imgs.

  19. I also want to point out a great way to get the rotation right in Lightroom. A simple way to locate the center axis is to click on the crop tool and see where the top and bottom handles, which are exactly in the center, line up. This makes it easy to pick the right vertical element to rotate. Turn off the crop tool and then click in the center of the image where you’ve identified your vertical element to rotate. This gets you in close and Lightroom still shows the grid making it easier to do the rotation adjustment. You can always zoom in and out on the image to double check your results.

  20. Thanks for the tutorial, Scott. One question!

    Since much of these distortion corrections result in cropping, do you ever find yourself shooting wider than normal to compensate for a crop which might remove detail from an image? I know your rule is to avoid the urge to shoot as wide as possible, but I’m curious if you ever knowingly compensate with a bit of extra width for an image that will require vertical corrections.

    • Mike – sure, you can do that. We generally have plenty of pixels, so I can afford to lose a few. The issue is less about cropping than about stretching/compressing things. Try a test on something like a brick wall – too much correction will start to destroy the detail across the entire image fairly quickly. Again, a high megapixel camera helps, but ultimately there *is* an image quality problem.

  21. Hi Scott,
    I finally got LR3 loaded and dug around until I found the link to this page. I can’t tell you how I wish I had done this months ago. I am cringing at the time I have wasted processing photos because I had not yet made time to figure this out! I should now have time to even review your lighting book again – when I first bought it, I didn’t understand my gear enough for me to get everything. I’m a natural at composition but the rest has been a bit of a struggle, partially due to my little Rebel and no light kit. Anyway, thanks for always inspiring me to do better.
    Kris Tabor

  22. Great video Scott; prompted me to update lens and camera data (just got used to guides / transform / skew !) Amazing how good a job Adobe is doing keeping up with tech; one button to update info, and a new search online button is in the lens correction filter.